It was 1998 when Bob Funk, on a trip in Canada to show cattle, came upon the beautiful black and white Clydesdale horse for the first time. His interest was piqued. That same year, the founder of Yukon-based Express Ranches and Express Employment Professionals decided to start an Oklahoma Clydesdale team.
“I thought, ‘Oklahoma doesn’t have a Clydesdale team – this would be good for our state,’” Funk says.
Clydesdales in Oklahoma
Along with bringing Clydesdales to Oklahoma, Funk thought they would make the perfect ambassadors for Express Employment Professionals, a leading staffing provider in the U.S., Canada and South Africa. So he hired a group of Amish carpenters to remodel a World War II-era barn in Yukon to house the giant horses, and within a few months, Express Clydesdales was born.
Since then, Express Clydesdales has grown to include 35 horses. More than a thousand visitors stop by each week to meet the Clydesdales at the Express Clydesdale Welcome Center. Additionally, the barn hosts numerous events throughout the year, including weddings and birthday parties.
On the Road
The Clydesdales travel all over the nation and Canada as goodwill ambassadors for Express Employment Professionals.
“We visit the company’s different locations and attend events in their market,” says Josh Minshull, general manager of Express Clydesdales. “We make appearances in parades and at rodeo exhibitions, and we participate in a lot of fundraisers and competitions. We’re on the road about 250 days of the year.”
The Express Clydesdales star in some of the world’s most famous parades every year, such as Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Kentucky Derby Pegasus Parade, The Tournament of Roses Parade and many more. They have even chauffeured the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, during a visit to Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
Fundraising is something Express Clydesdales does best – it has helped raise millions of dollars for Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for children’s hospitals, medical research and community awareness of children’s health issues.
“When we were getting into this, we looked at a lot of different charities. We chose Children’s Miracle Network because its overhead is only 2 percent – the rest of the money goes directly to the hospitals – and it fit our nationwide footprint,” Funk says.
The horses also help raise money for some special stables all over the nation.
“We stay at a lot of different stables throughout the country, and quite a few of them are equine therapy stables,” Minshull says. “So we help raise funds for those facilities through photo ops and rides. A lot of people have never seen a Clydesdale in their life, so it’s a unique opportunity for them to get up close and personal with these horses.”
Express Clydesdales doesn’t just raise money. Minshull, who is known as one of the best Clydesdale drivers in the nation, has grown the horses and trainers into one of the premier Clydesdale teams in the world. Under his leadership, Express Clydesdales has won numerous awards and competitions.
In 2015, Express Clydesdales boasted more than 600 of the most elite Clydesdales from all over the world to become world champions in the Eight-Horse Hitch Category at the World Championship in London, Ontario.
“The fact that we place in these competitions says a lot about our program,” Minshull says. “We take great pride in that.”
Minshull says managing Express Clydesdales is demanding but infinitely rewarding. The horses require a full-time staff of six people to provide the level of care Express Clydesdales expects.
“The horses are pretty spoiled,” he says. “They’re groomed daily and fed three times a day. They require a lot of care and maintenance, but our staff is so passionate about what we do. It’s a dream job for us.”